The "Son of Man" was one of Jesus' favorite titles while on earth, appearing eighty-one times in the Gospels. He repeatedly referred to himself in that way. We see in Mark 10:45: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." The Jewish audience would have heard clear references to the Old Testament. This title comes from Daniel 7:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14-15).
But what does this title actually mean about who Jesus was? What does it tell us about his work in saving us? We can see three things about how he fulfilled this Old Testament prophecy.
1. Coming on the Clouds of Salvation
By the Father’s love, the Son of Man freely lays his life down, drawing all people to himself in his death and resurrection. Christ’s rule as king begins with his suffering on our behalf. Most kings send their servants to die for them in battle, but not so with Jesus.
Jesus is a different kind of king who shows his rule by dying. This was necessary for him to accomplish all righteousness and enter into this glory that was once promised to us (Luke 24:26–27). Christ went further into the depths of death than anyone had. His valley of tears was the lowest of all who have ever lived.
His complete descent into the clutches of the devil was for us. Our redemption from the slave market of sin was now possible as Jesus came under the dark clouds of condemnation (Matt. 27:45; Eph. 4:9–10). Someone free and innocent had to suffer for the condemned. Someone had to enter Satan’s house of bondage to redeem the captives (Luke 4:16–21). This was Jesus. Little did the enemies of God know that killing him would undo their power and destroy their hold on the world (1 Cor. 2:6–10; Heb. 2:14–18).
[J]ust as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:15–18)
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32–33)
2. Judging the Nations for Unbelief
The Son of Man will come with judgment on the last day for those who do not follow him by denying themselves through faith and repentance. The sin that has marred, distorted, and warped our bodies will be destroyed completely on the last day. The good work God began in declaring us righteous by faith will continue until his last word finalizes that restoration and perfection, making us just like the Son of Man (Rom. 5:5; Gen. 1:26).
But those who do not believe and repent will enter into eternal judgment:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matt. 16:24–27)
3. Ruling Over God's Kingdom
The Son of Man has been exalted to the highest rule and authority because of his sacrifice. He reigns as the Son of Man over God's kingdom. We are now called to bow the knee because Jesus alone is Lord.
Jesus rose from the depths of our sin and death. The grave could not hold the innocent Son of God (Acts 2:24). Ascending on high, Jesus reigns at the Father’s right hand. There he continues to serve his Father for the good of his people as the heavenly hosts sing his praise (Rev. 12:10).
With the Ascension, the devil has been thrown from his place in the courtroom of heaven. This adversary can no longer accuse us as justly condemnable because of Jesus (Zech. 3; 1 John 2:1; Rom. 8:34–37). As heirs of the heavenly kingdom of God, we finally have an advocate with the Father who hears our prayers! We have access to the throne room of God through Jesus (Heb. 4:16). Raised to immortality, Jesus cannot die and will never cease pleading for us until he brings us into God's eternal kingdom at the end of the age.
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31).